Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indriðason: A review

Arctic ChillArctic Chill by Arnaldur Indriðason
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm being generous in giving this book three stars. Two-and-a-half would probably be closer to the mark.

I think much of my problem with the book lay with its translation which seemed particularly ungainly and clumsy. So, I guess I'm giving the book the benefit of a doubt in thinking that I might have liked it better if I could have read it in the original Icelandic.

I don't think I would have liked Inspector Erlendur any better though. Really, every time I begin to warm up to the man, he does something stupid and outrageous which just makes me want to punch him in the face. He suddenly gets hostile and angry for no apparent good reason. He is cold toward his adult children who just want him to be a part of their lives. He makes assumptions about people and evidence presented to him on his cases - assumptions which blind him to being able to see clues that are right in front of his face. Frankly, he's not a very good detective and not a very good leader of his team. It's a wonder he ever solves any mystery.

The primary mystery of Arctic Chill involves the death of a child. On a cold January afternoon, the body of a young boy, about 10 years old, is found lying in the garden area outside the apartment building where he lived. The investigation reveals that he has been stabbed. The wound from the murder weapon penetrated his liver and he bled to death. However, he was not stabbed where the body was found. He was attacked elsewhere and apparently tried to make his way home before he collapsed and died.

The murdered boy's mother is Thai and his father Icelandic. The parents are divorced and the boy lived with his mother and older brother. Erlendur immediately assumes that there must have been a racial motive behind the stabbing.

The boy's older brother is a full-blooded Thai, born in Thailand. Following the discovery of his brother's body, the teenage boy cannot be found. A search ensues. Again, Erlendur assumes that he may have been involved in the murder or that he has information about it. Eventually, Erlendur discovers him in a storage building near his mother's flat, but he is in shock and will not speak.

Erlendur and his team interview neighbors, teachers, and classmates of the murdered child, attempting to discover the reason for his death and how it happened. They make little progress.

Meanwhile, Erlendur continues to be preoccupied by another case he is handling. It's a missing person case of the type with which he is obsessed. A woman has disappeared. It is suspected that she may have committed suicide but no trace of her can be found.

In the middle of investigating the murder, Erlendur stumbles upon a possible case of child molestation that happened long ago. The alleged perpetrator was a neighbor of the murdered child and he becomes a potential suspect in the murder case. There is never any satisfactory resolution to this red herring detour.

Yes, there are red herrings and distractions galore here, but it is hard to see how any of them really contribute to the overall plot or the furtherance of the case. In the end, the solution to the mystery is more a matter of the detectives stumbling across the answer rather than actually working it out through deductive reasoning or following the clues.

Again, as it has been throughout this series, Iceland is portrayed as an insular, one might even say closed, society. The population has historically been homogenous to a very high degree. But lately, the country is receiving more immigrants, particularly from Asia, and this is causing stresses and conflicts among some elements of the population. There is considerable exploration of that cultural phenomenon in the book, particularly concerning the trials and barriers faced by the immigrants and the resentment that bubbles up from some of their Icelandic neighbors. It is an old, old story, of course, one that is certainly not unique to Iceland.  

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  1. Too bad the mysteries don't seem to get better. Will you keep reading them?

    1. I actually quite liked The Draining Lake, the one that I read just previous to this one, but Arctic Chill seems like a step backwards to me. I think I'm through with this series at least for a while. I might give it another try at a later date.


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